Archive for the ‘Blindness’ Category

Reid My Mind Radio: For the Love of Honey

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Picture of Ojok Simon in front of a blue covered background.

This third segment features Ojok Simon. Attacked as a boy in Uganda by the infamous army of Joseph Kony, hear his journey to becoming one of the first three Holman Prize winners as an Entrepreneur who is about more than just bizzzzness!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up RMM Radio Family…I’m excited for another Holman Prize winner story, but I’m also a little down. It’s the third in the series of 3!
Well when I get down, I sing the blues.

[Audio: Muddy Waters, Honey Bee]

TR:
Nah, I’m not blue! Let’s Go!

[Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:

Today we conclude our three part series featuring
all of the Holman Prize recipients.

The prize is named in honor of James Holman. Known as the Blind Traveler, Holman completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.

Sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse $25,000 is given to each of the winners who are all legally blind and in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

In order to meet our third winner, I had to travel to Uganda in East Africa. Well, via Skype!

Ojok:

I am Ojok Simon from Uganda. I am from the northern district of Gulu.

I was a child growing up in a rural community. I used to play a lot with all my fellow peers. We enjoyed hunting for wild honey . We liked playing hide and seek games. I used to have a lot friends. many people would come and play around with me . they would come to listen to my stories . I liked creating jokes . I liked giving tough predictions in the future. So I’m that kind of crazy person.

My ambition was to be a military doctor.

TR:
Sounds like what we would think about as life for a young boy.

However, during the late 1980’s
Joseph Kony came into power and his Lord’s Resistance Army
terrorized Northern Uganda.

The LRA is Known for forcing children to serve in their army and
all sorts of brutal atrocities.
At 9 years old, Ojok’s home in Gulu was the site one such incident.

Ojok:

They found me and my mother were still in the house. And they thought that being a child I was going to run away. So they started to beat me at the temple of my head using the butt of the gun. I fell down with a lot of pain. I didn’t know and my parents didn’t know that there was that kind of internal injuries of my sight. After three years they started to realize that my vision started deteriorating and there was no medical attention that I could seek because everybody, every area was in war. The doctors live in fear so you can’t get medical attention. After five years I had to go and join the blind school. Even when I was trying to seek the medical attention through the blind school there was no equipment so that they could help me so I had to remain with the condition like that.

TR:
That condition Ojok described is low vision. It’s important to note that the School for the Blind in Uganda doesn’t take acuity into consideration when creating the curriculum. Everyone is taught Braille for example, large print is not an option.

Another part of his studies included what Ojok refers to as psycho social support or therapy, which is what helped him eventually come to terms with the
permanence of his condition.

Yet, at 9 years old with lots of friends looking up to Ojok that adjustment had to be difficult.

Ojok:
When I was growing up as a boy among my friends I used to like Football. I used to play like a goal keeper so when my vision started losing I started losing friends because I could not handle the ball the way they feel like their leader should be. They said you are blind so cannot associate yourself with us. Life became horrible. To make the matters worse we used to love hunting for wild honey.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]
I don’t know anything about hunting for honey, like what is that process like?

Ojok:
Hunting for wild honey, it’s wild honey ok… of course we live in a community where a lot of bees swarm ok. They keep moving around looking for their house so that they could get accommodated like the hive, but people doesn’t take care of providing a house for the. Now the bees will end up handing on the big thick trees .

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

When they find that honey, there’s no bees there? The bees are somewhere else?

Ojok:
No the bees will also be there because they live together and protect the honey because you know honey is a food for bees as well.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

… right, but how do you deal with the bees when you’re trying to take the honey?

Ojok:
They do it in a local way. They will get fire and they will burn the bees. Now when the bees run away, that’s when they will harvest the honey. They will not take care of the bees. Now for me it became a challenge because imagine with your poor vision climbing up the trees and trying to move and walk on the branches, balancing so that you can go and remove the honey. So since for me I like also moving in the bush during the daytime because I have some little sight I would get where the honey nests are but at night I could not locate the situation so my peers use that opportunity so that they can get the wild honey . They would take it to their grandparents, they will receive a lot of praises, they would sing them that they are great men and served them with the good food. So now I’m missing those love from my grandparents.

TR:
Chances are, you’re like me. You probably don’t know much about wild honey and didn’t realize it had such value. As we will see, this is just the bee ginning of all this sweet nectar has to offer.

Ojok:

While I was pursuing my studies one day during holiday… Remember I told you that we are also in the war torn area, people then were taken to concentration camps. I was now walking around our broken home where we used to stay. Now while I was walking around there, bees were stinging me from all directions. Then with my poor vision I was trying to run. The direction where I was running that was where the bees were coming from . Then I came across an abandoned clay pot. it was just on the ground. There were bees in that clay pot and I said wow now what can I do. Then I went back home and I came back now because this is on the ground and is in the area where I know , then I harvested the honey. I took it to my mother. She became happy eating the honey.

TR:

Realizing he could easily harvest the honey from this more accessible method, Ojok devised a plan. While his mother was out of the house, Ojok
helped himself to one of her clay pots.

Ojok:

Who has taken this pot of mine… who has taken this pot of mine?

I don’t know… I even denied so, I got the pot and took it next to the one I found in the abandoned home and left those there. Now two pots. I went back to school. Now during another holiday I came back and found both pots are colonized with the honey. And that became the turning point for me.

TR:

Harvesting the honey, Ojok was once again able to surprise his mother.

Ojok:

I took it to my mother and she said hey where are you always getting this honey. I said yes, I have my techniques.

TR:
Ojok admitted to his mother that part of his technique included taking her pot…
His make shift hives produced more honey than his family could consume.

Ojok:

Some of my friends, they started being friendly to me because they want to eat the honey. If you want to eat the honey be my friend so that I can sell you.

TR:

Hiving Bees and harvesting the honey using
clay pots isn’t very sustainable. Drawing the bees away with fire in order to gather the honey, kills some of the bees. Reading more about the process of Bee Keeping in Africa Ojok invested in a new type of hive, while still pursuing his Bachelor’s degree.

Ojok:

I found now they were selling a hollow tree. They would cut the log of a tree then they would produce a hole inside. There are doors so that the bees would stay inside. Bee keeping was not for commercial or social change but just because I love eating honey I want to get praises. So I just continue with the bee keeping. After my formal studies I returned back to my village. I started doing human rights activism for people with disability through the convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

TR:
As an advocate, Ojok was informing others with disabilities about their human rights and how they could live independently.

Remember, Bee keeping to Ojok was a hobby, but his advocacy work led to his discovery of more possibilities.

Ojok:

Then I started meeting some of my fellow blind people that we used to live with them during the school time, but they did not finish their studies. And now they were saying their poor. they don’t have any source of income. I would spend all of my salary on them. When they asked me for soap, I’d give them. When they asked me for something little I’d give them. Then I asked myself self, how long would I keep on helping people like this? Is this really sustainable?

TR:

Ojok’s two original clay pots turned into 12 income producing hives. He wondered why such an idea couldn’t do the same for others.

Ojok:

They don’t have any source of income but for me I’m getting my normal salary. But on another side, my hives are also there. After 7 years I resigned. I decided to go for Entrepreneurship training in India with the organization called Kanthari, which is Braille without Borders.

[Audio: Oprah Winfrey Show featuring sabriye tenberken]

TR
sabriye tenberken started the first school for the blind in Tibet – where blindness is viewed as a curse for something done in a prior life. This school formed the foundation of Braille Without Borders, an organization empowering blind people to take their lives in their own hands.

In 2005 she co-founded kanthari in Kerala, South India. Kanthari fosters participants from all over the world, who, like Sabriye, have a passion to make the world a better place and the strength to be forces of good rather than victims of circumstance.

A kanthari is a plant that grows wild in every backyard of Kerala, a small but very spicy chili with a number of medicinal values. It’s also a symbol for those who have the guts to challenge harmful traditions and the status quo, who have fire in their belly and
a lot of innovative ideas to make a positive difference.

Ojok:
Then I came back. I started now launching my idea venture of providing employment to blind people. Then I started training 22 blind and low vision both men and females from the age of 20 and above. My target is to target those who are already out of school so that they can get employment.

I give them start up kits, like the bee hive. I give them 5 of them each. Then later I started giving them an improved type of bee hive which I too have it’s called Top Bar.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Top Bar!

Ojok:
Then I follow them up and I build their capacity and I add them two top bar each.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

So what’s the difference between that and the other one, the traditional one?

Ojok:
The top bar will produce more honey and then would last longer than the traditional hive.

TR:

The initial 22 students, turned into 38. The lessons, go beyond harvesting honey and
include orientation and mobility, leadership skills

Ojok:

Now something I could not provide they can advocate for their own needs, because bee keeping might not answer all their problems. But it’s just like a spring board.

They started realizing that yes they are human beings. For instance, among the 38 people that I already trained which are practicing bee keeping, three of them actually they have grown more than my capacity. They became recognized in the society even they are now elected leaders to go and defend people who are visually impaired with the local government in the community – which is above me. Even I call them my boss… (laughs)

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Laughs… How does that feel?

Ojok:
Actually, I feel relief. Inside me I said yes, this is what I want to do. Like a bearing in a bicycle, the bearing is very tiny but it play an important role of making the bicycle to go faster. So I just said yes I’m not being seen but I can see the impact. This has given me the answer I have been looking for.

TR:

Ojok was already seeing some success with his venture. Learning of the Holman Prize competition through his kanthari mentor he submitted his video.

[Audio from Ojok Holman Prize Ambition Video

Ojok:
I would use the prize to empower blind and partially sighted person to be bee keepers in their home. Beneficiaries will be trained in different types of bee hives, introduction to be keeping, honey harvesting, mobility and orientation and they will be sent back to their home to work in their own bee farm. And five years from now I can see blind and partially sighted person being great entrepreneurs…]

Ojok:
When I found out I was a winner I said I can’t believe it…

I think my answer is being well known globally. It’s not only in Uganda because my biggest dream is to create an incubation center that will provide more employment for people with visually impairment through bee keeping by creating a honey factory where they would also now process their honey and they would market and they would do all those things. Those who might not practice bee keeping those who are skillful in other demonstration work and they would also be brought in the system. So after saying that hey I’m I winner I said yes my answer is coming slowly by slowly and I think one day the whole world will know that there are a certain group of visually impaired persons in east Africa in Uganda who are providing the world with tropical honey that is very healthy.

TR:

Creating big goals and achieving them isn’t new to this Holman Prize winner.

Ojok:

I’m the first visually impaired person in my district to go up to the university so I had to show that I can bear fruits. If everything dwells on me then I would carry a lot of burdens. I need them to start carrying their own burdens, but at the moment they’re still dealing with low self-esteem a lot of stigmatization, negative attitude… they still believe in the status quo that if you are disabled or you are visually impaired you cannot do any developmental thing which makes them not so productive.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Yeh, and so they start to feed into that mind set and start to believe it and then that’s it, once they believe it they stay there.

Ojok:
Exactly!

TR:

Like James Holman, Ojok Simon has ventured out beyond his immediate surroundings. Forming the right relationships with others who
can support his journey like;
His instructors at Kanthari in India providing Entrepreneurship training.
Working with mentors like Italian Bee Keepers to learn state of the art methods in bee keeping.
Capturing the attention of the San Francisco Lighthouse to
help expand not only his financing but
chances are increasing his exposure and helping him make more relationships to help reach that goal

In the book A Sense of the World, Howa Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler; author Jason Roberts writes about Holman’s encounter’s with François Huber – who Robert’s writes was the most famous blind man in the world at that time.

Losing his sight at 15, Huber’s research is said to have laid the foundations of the scientific knowledge of the life history of the
honey bee.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

What have you learned from your experience. I mean from that moment where you were 9 and you were getting brutality attacked. It sounds like you had several years of therapy. The dealing with the loss and all of that it sounds like that probably helped you a great deal but in general how do you look back on your life?

Ojok:
When I look back, look back on myself right now I would just say good enough it happened when I was still a child and I managed to cope with the situation, that’s one.

And then two, the best important thing is to have accept yourself the way you are and then learn how to live with it. I’ve learned my weakness and how I can turn my weaknesses into opportunities.
And also I say yes, having the heart of forgiveness. you need to forgive one another. If these people who had beaten me I could get them you’ll just derail yourself from mercy. You just waste a lot of your energy for nothing. You need to forgive them because maybe they did it not knowing . Maybe also they were under certain influences. If they were to come across me I think they would also realize that I’m not saying I’m in a better situation but I might have the material to also help them. If you have the heart of forgiveness even to those of my friends who used to insult me … I’ve forgiven them and now we are still good friends.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Wow, how long did that take you to get to that point because, that’s not just about blindness that’s life. And just about everybody can use that. What got you there?

Ojok:
When I look back…

It was a gradual process. One the formal education that I went through. I was feeding my brain with knowledge and though I not yet done it that much, I need to go for my Master’s in the future. It makes me to start analyzing each and every persons act and I say yes maybe they are doing that out of ignorance. Maybe they are doing that because they have not reached the level I have reached. So it took me more than 10 to 15 years when I started learning yes, I need to do this, I need to forgive, I need to accept my situation. I need to learn and do things.

slowly by slowly I was meeting different
characters.

I remember one of my good mentors from Uganda. Sorry she lost her life. She was my good teacher, I think she was also in the World Blind Union that is the late Sandira Frances. She was a totally blind person and she managed to struggle with her life and I was able to learn (from her).

Wherever she is she also feels happy that yes I’ve left somebody who is helping to carry on the work that I’ve been doing.

TR:

Carrying on the work, that sounds like what the Holman Prize is all about.

This brings to mind the African American proverb that dates back to a time it was illegal for enslaved Africans in America to know how to read.

Understanding the power of knowledge those who did learn would teach another. Encouraging them to do the same with the phrase; Each one teach one.!

Blinded as a young boy, Ojok Simon’s life could have easily went down a different path. His ability to find the sweet honey among the destruction left behind in a torn community, wasn’t a onetime thing.

That’s how he appears to live his life.

Ojok is currently engaged and has four children. That includes two young girls who were orphaned and he decided to adopt in order to help spare them what in those circumstances is often a dark future.

If you want to learn more about Ojok’s plans or maybe even see how you can support his goal , you can reach him through his organization’s website. HiveUganda.org.

The official place to learn more about the Holman Prize and even follow the progress of the winners is HolmanPrize.org.

I’m hoping each of these winners will be interested in speaking with me in the future about their progress experiences and of course lessons learned.

I’m Thomas Reid, for Gatewave Radio,

[Ojok from interview: “I love eating honey, I want to get praises!”]

audio for independent living!

[Barbara Streisand’s “Queen Bee” from A Star is Born
The beat loops with background singing what sounds like a bee buzzing….
acapella we hear her sing… “The Queen Bee’s never gonna be alone”
]

## TR:

How freaking cool was that!

I didn’t think this interview was going to happen. I mean connecting via Skype and speaking with someone in my own state can be a challenge. Here’s how it went down.

[Audio collage of TR attempting to get in touch with Ojok via Skype… includes sounds of me drumming on my desk to the Skype music… After multiple attempts which included failure due to storms in Uganda we connected.]

TR:
But Ojok was able to increase his bandwidth on the fly.

I heard about the sophistication of the cell phone market in Africa. So much of the continent’s commerce is done via telephone transactions. The wireless market made that possible without the infrastructure required for wired services.

The cool thing about technology, remember is not the technology but rather what we do with it.

Sort of like the honey… Ojok is harnessing that natural resource to empower others.

This in itself is a powerful statement. If you know anything about how Africa has been repeatedly been robbed of its natural resources, maybe this story takes on another meaning for you.

Big shout out to Ojok Simon, Ahmet Ustunel and Penny Melville-Brown, the first class of Holman Prize Winners.

Join me in wishing them the most success… do what winners do yawl… keep winning!

You too can keep winning… you know what you have to do right?

Subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or Sound Cloud. Then tell 3 friends…. why three… I told you when we started this series…
[Audio. De La Soul… 3 is the Magic Number!]

[RMMOutro]
Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Get On Board With The Blind Captain

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Ahmet in his kayak on a blue sea with a beautiful beach in the background.

Holman Prize winner Ahmet Ustunel says the water is his “happy place.” Hear all about his plans to be the first blind person to independently kayak from Europe to Asia… alone!

Plus the water being my Happy place means Ahmet and I have at least two things in common.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

What’s up RMMRadio Family…

If you’ve been here before, welcome back! If you’re a new jack, come on in…
take your shoes off if you like, it’s
not mandatory in my house, but I do want you to be comfortable.

Let’s get it! All aboard!
All Aboard!

[Audio: Ship Horn]
[Reid My Mind Theme]

TR:
In this second of our three part series, we’ll meet another winner of the Holman Prize.

The prize is named in honor of James Holman.
Known as the Blind Traveler, Holman completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.

Sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse $25,000 is given to each of the winners who are all legally blind and in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

Ahmet Ustunel Our featured Holman Prize winner today like James Holman, is quite comfortable on the water.

I spoke to him via Facebook Audio while he was at home in San Francisco.

Ahmet:
I am originally from Turkey. I have been in the US for about 11 years now.
In my free time I like water sports. I like swimming, kayaking, fishing, sailing.

I’m totally blind since the age of two and a half or three due to Retinoblastoma.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

I’m also a Retinoblastoma survivor Sir.

Ahmet:
Man, yeh, wow!

TR:

Retinoblastoma, is a rare childhood eye cancer that usually affects children before the age of years old.
By rare we’re talking about seven thousand children a year.

In the US and other developed nations the survivor rate is
around 90 percent with significant children losing sight.
In under developed nations, the rates are reversed and children’s lives are lost.

One common sign possibly indicating Retinoblastoma is a
white reflection in a child’s eye resembling that of a cat’s eye reflecting light.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to saving both lives and sight.

By the time Ahmet’s cancer was detected, doctors in Turkey
were out of options to help.

Ahmet:

One of my relatives was in Germany working at a children’s hospital as a janitor so my Gran Ma took me there and they treated me there with radiation an enucleation.

TR:

Enucleation or the surgical removal of Both his eyes, Ahmet returned home to Turkey now as a blind child.

Ahmet:
I was lucky in terms of having really supportive people in my family. I grew up in a really big family. Everybody had a different approach in terms of blindness.

I was the only blind person in the family and even in the town I guess. I didn’t know any other blind person.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Wow! How big of a town are you talking about?

Ahmet:
Maybe like ten fifteen thousand people.
Then I moved to Istanbul which is like fifteen sixteen million people and that actually changed my life.

TR:

Ahmet was aware of the contrasting dynamics in his family as it pertained to his blindness. Some were over protective while others wanted to help him do the things other little boys were doing.

Ahmet:
Ride a bike, tie hooks on a fishing line… avoid Sting Rays when you are swimming.

TR:

These early lessons in the ability to make something accessible played a role in his education and future.

After not being accepted in a mainstream school , Ahmet watched as his peers went to school at around 6 years old.

Moving to Istanbul his parents tried to enroll him in the only school for blind children. With a waiting list Ahmet wouldn’t begin until he was 8 years old.

Attending school during the week and returning home on weekends, Ahmet credits this school with teaching him valuable life skills.
After 5th grade he would attend a mainstream school.

Ahmet:
They send you back to mainstream school with no support. So you go back to school with no books and no teachers for the blind.

I was the first blind student in the school. I had to prove myself as a blind person.

TR:

At an early age, Ahmet took his education and future into his own hands.

Ahmet:
I was walking around with my Walkman and asking everybody you know, can you read me a page or two.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

So you were basically learning to advocate for yourself at that young age?

Ahmet:

Oh yeah I mean absolutely I mean there was nobody to advocate for me.
I could choose to sit around and do nothing you know get a C and pass, but if I really do well then people and teachers and you know the principal will understand that I can do stuff and they will let me stay. And if I cannot do it
I will just withdrawal myself.

TR:
Ahmet when on to not only prove himself to the administration but gain the confidence in his own abilities.

He studied Psychology in college where he met his wife, a US exchange student.

But his early life exposed him to more than academics

Ahmet:

When I was in high school my school campus was right on the water, you can literally jump into the water from the campus.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

So is that where the kayaking came in, from high school.

Ahmet:
No actually I did a lot of you know water related activities since my childhood as I grew up by Black Sea.

When I was in college I use to go rowing and stuff, but I haven’t started kayaking until I came here.

TR:
A Kayak is a very narrow boat like vessel. You steer and move the kayak with a paddle that has a blade on each end. They average about 25 to 35 inches wide and 12 to 19 feet in length.

Ahmet:

So let’s say you have a kayak nineteen foot long and twenty eight inch wide. You can go really fast but it will be a little tippy.

If it is twelve feet long and thirty five inches wide it will be really stable but you will go half as fast as the nineteen foot one.

It’s made of either corrugated plastic or fiber glass, there are some inflatable models.
So you sit in it. And you’re like really close to the water if you put
your hand your right there the water is right there. So you’re like maybe four inches above the water.

And you have a spray skirt which covers the kayak. So if you have a splash water doesn’t get in and if you flip over you are upside down but know water gets in.
So you have to pull the skirt off the kayak and get out of the kayak and flip it over and get back in. Or you can do the special row it’s called Eskimo row. Without pulling the skirt off you can flip the kayak back and keep paddling.

If you go paddling in cold water like San Francisco the water temperature goes below fifty degrees most of the time. So you don’t want to stay in that water more than 15 minutes. If you stay more than 15 minutes they say Hypothermia kicks in.

TR:

So what does Kayaking have to do with the Holman Prize?

[Audio from Ahmet’s Ambition]

You’re listening to Ahmet’s Holman Prize Ambition video where he explains what he would do with the 25 grand.

[Ahmet in Video……]

I have been kayaking for about 10 years and I always wanted to be able to paddle independently. If I win the Holman Prize I will equip my kayak with high and low tech devices that will enable me to navigate the kayak by myself.

TR:
His mission…

[Ahmet in video…]
My dream is to be the first blind person to paddle from Europe to Asia by crossing the Bosporus Straits.

TR:
You heard him correctly…
[Audio: Tape rewinding ]

[Ahmet in video…]
My dream is to be the first blind person to paddle from Europe to Asia by crossing the Bosporus Straits.

TR:
Exactly what is required for someone to non visually, independently navigate their way through the Bosporus Straits from Europe to Asia?

Let’s start with the Kayak

Ahmet:
The kayak I’m going to use has kind of like fins going down from the bottom of the kayak kind of like penguin feet. And so you can pedal with your feet if you want or you can just do a classical paddle strokes.

I want to keep my hands free because I’m going to use whole bunch of different technologies.

TR:

No surprise here the technology includes an iPhone.
Ahmet:

I’m going to use a G.P.S. app – Ariadni G.P.S.

You can mark way points and it will let you know when you get close to that way point.

It also has a compass with degrees and tell you how far you are from your way points. And then I have a talking audible compass. Similar thing it will tell you degrees and you will set you course before you start and it will tell you if you are off course.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
and you will South your course before you start and it will tell you the field

Is that a separate device or is that an app?

Ahmet:

It’s a separate devise.

I will also have parking sensors or security cameras sensors.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
Probably the same thing they use when the cars park themselves… right?

Ahmet:

Right, right right! You know when you’re backing out so if you are about to hit something it beeps.

I have a depth whisperer.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

D E P T H?.

Ahmet:
Yes.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Ok at first I thought you said death (laughs) I was like I don’t like that one!

Ahmet:
Laughs… I hope not!

It tell you if there’s shallow water underneath the kayak. If you are about to hit a rock or something .

TR:

Ahmet does have to prepare for all scenarios.

There’s redundancy in his technology so if one device fails another can provide the same or just as useful information.

Not all the technology is off the shelf. While searching for the best methods for non-visually navigating his way through the water Ahmet
came across Marty Stone.

Marty is an AT&T I.T. Project Manager by day and after hours…

Marty:

I’m just one of those people that like to tinker with things.

TR:
Marty created a device that simply put:

Marty:
It was developed to allow blind people to get a kayak and race it in a straight line and then turn around and come back.

TR:

Reading about this device, Ahmet reached out to Marty who decided to expand on the original design.

Marty:
Now we’re working on something that not only includes a compass but gyroscopes, accelerometers, and three different axis.

So you get a lot better information as far as movement and heading. We’ve got a G.P.S. module that’s it’s married to along with Bluetooth. That’s going to be interfaced with a device Ahmet will be able to wear on his life vest that will have some buttons that either he can program in some coordinates or commands to the system that he’ll just wear a headset and it’ll talk to him.
It’ll tell him that in order to get from where he is to his next way point he needs to row in a certain heading direction. And if he gets off course the system will tell him to paddle more on the left or paddle more on the right. And when he gets to a way point it will let him know and then he needs to change his heading to another course direction and then it’ll tell him that.

TR:
With both equipment and technology accounted for, Ahmet needs a few more things to be fully prepared to reach his goal; first a plan..

Ahmet:
Istanbul is a city on both continents. And we have this Bosporus Strait that separates the city into two different parts. And the area I’m going to cross is about three, three and a half miles which is not a big physical challenge, but it has heavy traffic.

A lot of ships like tankers, containers, fishing boats, tourist boats, sailing boats you know all kinds of stuff.

These tankers are the size of multiple football fields. A small kayak would probably go unnoticed anywhere near such a large vessel. And getting out of the way even if you could see it would be virtually impossible.

Ahmet:
I don’t want to take my chance with those guys!

TR:
The Bosporus being such a very narrow waterway. Authorities closely control the traffic flow in each direction.

Ahmet:

I will listen to the traffic channel. Usually they have half an hour or forty-five minute break in between and I will do my crossing during that time.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
Do you have to schedule this?

Ahmet:

Well, I talked to the Coast Guard in Turkey and they .. first they didn’t believe that I could do it and I showed my videos to them and they said ok do whatever, we don’t take any responsibility.
(Ahmet and TR Laugh)

There will be a really fast boat watching me from the shore. If something goes wrong they will come and pick me up in like few minutes.

I’m not worried about the physical challenge – I can paddle you know three miles right now, no big deal. Being an expert using the technology if the key because I don’t want to have hesitation right in the middle of the shipping channel you know. That could be fatal.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Why are you doing this man?

Ahmet:

I always loved the water, it’s my happy place. It’s the place I feel good about myself I feel free. I grew up in a fishing boat when I was a kid. My father was a fisherman. In the fishing boats I used to ask my Dad, you know can I steer the boat. he said yeh, you know, it’s water there’s nothing around you, it’s like miles and miles of open water. I used to take the steering wheel and just feel like I was the captain of the boat. And I was imagining like how can do something like this as a blind person as a blind kid. I always wanted to do something water related but my option were very limited in college.
If I grew up in the US I would have probably do something like marine biology.

I love what I am doing right now, I’m teaching special ed. It was always somewhere in my mind to do something water related and being able to do it independently. I have been thinking about it for a long time and I thought you know, it’s doable if I have the financial support I can do it.

TR:
I believe him. And I will admit it, partially because he is a fellow Retinoblastoma Survivor but mainly because he began as a child.
Think about the early lessons from his family helping him adapt all the different activities so he could participate…

[Audio in flashback Ahmet]

Ride a bike… tie hooks on a fishing line… avoid Sting Rays when you are swimming.

TR:
Then becoming his own advocate at such a young age and showing such determination to get an education.

I imagine these are some of the qualities seen by the Holman Prize judges who awarded Ahmet the 25 thousand dollars to complete his objective.

Ahmet:

You know, I’m not saving the world or I’m not creating job opportunities or changing the lives of blind people , but I think I’m doing something cool!

At least it might encourage younger kids to try new things. I see that my students, high school kids, they get discouraged in terms of finding alternative ways… I think it will help.

Everything could be adapted. Everything could be more accessible, that’s what I want to show. I don’t want it to be a success story of one person … he’s blind but he did that, he did this. It doesn’t mean anything you know one person did this.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

It’s cool, you focus on kids, you’re a teacher so that’s what you do, but for anyone, you’re pursuing your passion and that’s something that we forget in life. To be able to say you’re going to go and pursue your passion and have a dream and do it that is a universal thing that goes way beyond any sort of disability. There are people who are perfectly sighted, physical abled who are not pursuing their passion and we can all learn from that.

Ahmet:
Absolutely, yeh, I mean you know, it’s not a blind or sighted thing. It’s just I think being adventurous and take a risk take a chance.

TR:

That’s probably the final ingredient necessary to complete this mission. courage!

As a young boy on the fishing boat with his Dad, Ahmet dreamt of becoming the captain. It takes real courage to go for your dreams. I’d say Ahmet’s been captain of his ship for quite some time.

If you’re interested in wishing Ahmet safe travels or want to follow his progress, go and Like his Facebook page; Ahmet The Blind captain.

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio,
[Audio repurposed: Ahmet ” do whatever, we don’t take any responsibility! ]

audio for independent living!

[Audio: Grand Funk Railroad… The Captain]

TR:
Being affected by the lack of accessibility is frustrating. Especially when you know the so called limitation isn’t real.

It could be a website or program that doesn’t work with a screen reader. That was a choice. Probably not an intentional one, but if made aware of the problem and
a solution isn’t sought well, that’s intentional.

Companies usually fall back on the cost and yes there could be a cost to updating a product, but there’s no real cost to changing how we think and design for the future.

Inaccessibility is frustrating when you know that the reason for technology is to make our lives better.

That was one of the reasons I wanted to reach out to Marty Stone, the developer creating an enhanced device to help Ahmet stay the course.

Marty:
You can never accuse me of being an optimistic person I’m afraid, but I do hope that we can save the world with science, I really do. The world needs a lot of help and a lot of people really don’t trust science or scientist it’s kind of shameful.

[TR in conversation with Marty]
This is what technology is all about.

Marty:
Helping people…

[TR in conversation with Marty]

Yes!

Marty:
Absolutely, the stuff I do for AT&T is great and all that but doing this other stuff… this is the best stuff in the world. Volunteering and doing this other work. Taking some of that Geek ology and helping other people’s lives.. make them better. Man that’s just the dandiest thing in the world.

TR:
We need more of a bridge between the users of technology and the programmers, engineers, scientists … nerds.
Marty:
It’s cool to be a nerd now, yeh…. laughs.

TR:

The opportunity to profile Ahmet and his story came at the right time for me personally.
For the past few years, September has been a pretty busy time here on the Reid Compound.
As a survivor and a family impacted by Retinoblastoma, my family and I have spent the past few years telling stories to bring awareness of this childhood cancer.

September is childhood cancer awareness month. This year unfortunately we couldn’t produce the stories so being able to bring you Ahmet and drop a little info about this eye cancer means a lot to me personally.

In fact, I’d encourage you to check out some of the prior videos we have produced and see how the cancer impacted their lives. While these are videos the visuals included are enhancements, the story is told verbally.
I’ll have some links on this episode’s post on ReidMyMind.com.

I’m always hopeful that a story like Ahmet’s when presented in the mainstream media is done the right way. By that I mean, find and convey his message to the wider audience. In addition to the accessibility and self-advocacy I’m always personally encouraged when I see others going for their dream.

Ahmet was already preparing for the dream. He just needed the funding. His fortune, the San Francisco Lighthouse created the opportunity. Ahmet was prepared. Some say that’s the definition of luck… being prepared for opportunity

That’s another take away for me, be prepared for that opportunity. Begin moving towards your dream.

I hope the Holman Prize winners; Ahmet and Penny are encouraging you the listener to go for your dream if you’re not already.

I hope they’re encouraging you to subscribe to this podcast just
about anywhere podcasts are distributed… Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In and Sound Cloud

The world is going to be buzzing with this next episode, featuring
the final Holman Prize winner. Don’t miss it.

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Meet Holman Prize Winner Baking Blind

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Penny of Baking Blind in her garden.

Penny of Baking Blind, in the kitchen.
What would you do with 25 G’s?

That question was posed to all legally blind people brave enough to submit their video to YouTube explaining exactly how they would use the money. It’s a contest sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse called The Holman Prize.
Today in this 3 part series you will meet the winners and learn the answers to…

  • Who is Holman?
  • Who is Penny Melville-Brown? * What is Baking Blind?

I got the answers… just hit play and hear how this winner is bringing “more than buns!”

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Today I’m bringing you the first of a three part series. And you know what they say about three right…

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme]
TR:
You’ve probably heard of well-known explorers like Magellan, Columbus, Marco Polo? What about Holman; James Holman.

Born in 1786 Holman went on to join the British Royal Navy and became lieutenant in 1807. In 1810he was struck by an illness that first afflicted his joints, then finally his vision.

By 25 years old he was totally blind. He eventually decided to go on to study medicine and literature.

Holman became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe. Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

Holman eventually was forgotten.

In 2006, Jason Roberts published the award winning biography
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.  

Today is the first in a three part series where we meet the three winners of the Holman Prize.

Brought to you by the San Francisco Lighthouse, 25,000 dollars is given to each of the three legally blind winners. Each in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

All applicants had to create a 90 second video describing their ambition and describe how they would use the money.

A team of judges all of whom are blind reviewed each video and selected three winners.

Let’s begin with one winner in particular, who you will notice, has several things in common with James Holman. Plus, I was taught, ladies first!

PMB:

Well I’m Penny Mellville-Brown and I live in Hampshire in the United Kingdom. My first career was in the Royal Navy.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Why did you want to enlist in the Royal Navy in the first place?

PMB:
I needed a complete change of life.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
What were you doing prior to that?

PMB:

Well I was at university so I completed my degree. I done a postgraduate qualification. I was due to get married the following year and my fiancé was killed in a car accident so I decided that I needed a complete change.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Oh, I’m so sorry!

PMB:
I applied for every job that was going that looked vaguely interesting and I ended up in the Royal Navy. think in those days the women had their own service so I actually joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service WRNS) and twenty seventeen is the Centenary of their formation.

in the late ninety’s the women were integrated with the men so although I started off as a third officer which is the same as a sub left tenant, by the time I left I was wearing navy gold braid and had naval rank. I was what was in those days called the secretariat officer so I was doing NATO intelligence. I was doing home defense war planning, corporate public relations in the Ministry of Defense. Running the naval units in the universities and then I literally sat next to somebody at lunch and they said. “OH what we need is a female barrister.” I said, “I could do that.”

TR:
A barrister is a lawyer- mostly specializing in courtroom advocacy and litigation.

The US equivalent;

PMB:
Think of me as Tom Cruise…

[Audio: A Few Good Men Starring Tom Cruise & Jack Nicholson]

PMB:
Laughs, But not too much!

and then within about a year of qualifying my eyesight started deteriorating. I struggled on for about a year or two and went on to do another job. And then it all got pretty critical and I was having to lose the sight in one eye or actually I was going to die so I gave up that I. Went back to work in the Royal Navy and then the other eye started going and then I got promoted but by that stage I probably wasn’t driving. I used to be on one of those great big old tri-cycles. Do you know what those are? You know a three wheeler bike and that’s how I used to I used to cycle around the dockyard the naval base, terrifying everybody.

In the end it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to carry on a really successful career in the Navy so I was medically discharged as a war pensioner

## TR:
Penny’s vision loss was caused by Uveitis, a form of eye inflammation affecting the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall known as the uvea.

Possibly another connection to James Holman.

One similar trait that appears pretty certain

PMB:
OH! I Can do that!

TR:
That’s right! A can do attitude.

Her response to going blind?

PMB:
I think I was really lucky.

Firstly because the onset of my vision impairment took probably four or five years. That meant that I could adapt to it to some extent. I think it’s really difficult to do the adaptation. At least I had a bit more time rather than having some major injury which of course some of the naval veterans and other veterans have but I think so important was that I was able to work in the Royal Navy for probably three or more years with
very little vision and that proved to me that I could still do as good a job as anyone else. Just because I was blind was completely immaterial.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Did that take some advocacy on your part or were they just open to that?

PMB:
They were pretty supportive.

You will hear that I’m quite a determined person

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Oh yeh, I can hear that already!

TR & PMB:Laughs!

## TR:
Although Penny knew she could work and be productive and
sought assistance in planning for her future,
service organizations weren’t as helpful as expected.

PMB:
They didn’t know what to do with me. One just kept taking me out for lunch which was very charming but pretty useless.

TR:
A can do attitude means,
you find or create the solution.

Penny decided helping others with disabilities gain employment
was a worthwhile goal that she could work towards fulfilling.

PMB:so actually I took my uniform off one day and two days later I set myself up as a disability consultant and within a year I’d set up Disability Dynamics.

So I spent lots of time helping employers with employment policies around disability.

TR:
Serving on boards like the UK’s equivalent of the IRS and working with other governmental agencies was one aspect of Disability Dynamics, Penny’s disability consulting company.

Working directly with people with disabilities, Penny found real joy and success helping others gain their independence.

PMB:
One of the things I found most successful and most rewarding was helping people to start their own businesses and become self-employed. It means that they’re in control of their work where they work how they work when they work so that they can manage employment alongside a health condition. We had you know hundreds and hundreds of people contacting us for help and turned out lots and lots of businesses everything from a funeral director, people who did dog walking, somebody was training microlight pilots all sorts of things. Really inventive different ideas often built from their own hobbies that they turned into a
business that made them feel great again; independent, financially not reliant on the state and usually improve their health and it particularly improved their family relationships.

PMB:

TR:
Seeking a way to reach more people. Penny began with an idea sparked from something she enjoyed.

PMB:
I always make Christmas hampers for my friends and family.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
A hamper to me is where we put dirty clothes! Laughs!

PMB:
Here we would call that a dirty linen basket.

TR:
A hamper simply put, is a gift of food.

PMB:
I was making at least fifty little Christmas cakes to go into these hampers and I thought well why don’t we video that. And just see whether this has got any legs whatsoever. My brother had some spare time so he came up and videoed it and I’d made some little Pewter Christmas cake decorations, so we popped those on the top and that’s how Baking Blind got started.

TR:
This was late November early December 2016.
Posting the videos to YouTube, Penny’s aspirations were more than sharing recipes.
PMB:
I was looking for something to demonstrate to others that just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
Let me stop you…

PMB:
Sure.

Me sitting on the board well perhaps twelve other people see that. Me delivering projects well perhaps five hundred people might know that. Yes, thank you for spotting that. That is, that is what it’s about. It’s getting real traction in the much wider population.

TR:
Putting yourself in the public can risk being seen as seeking attention.

Penny is very clear to note that this isn’t about her. She’s only 1 person who is blind, 1 person with a disability.

PMB:
there are loads more of us with all those capabilities who just want to do a good job, integrate into society, have a place in their communities rather than sit at home and be lonely and miserable.

TR:
That’s one of the objectives of the Holman Prize; challenging the misperception that people who are blind are limited to four walls.

Contestants vying for the 25,000 prize had a wide range of goals including establishing businesses, providing technology for others and even becoming president of their country.

PMB:
And there was me just saying Oh I think I want to cook some buns you know.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
But it’s so much more than buns! How exactly are you going to fulfill your mission using the Holman Prize.

[Audio: Up tempo music begins…]

PMB:
I’m going out to San Francisco to have an orientation with the lighthouse team and then we’re trying to line up some cooking opportunities while I’m in
San Francisco.

I’m then going to whiz down to Costa Rica where I’m cooking in it’s called the Jungle Culinary Adventure Restaurant and we’re toying with
the idea of whether we could do dining in the dark down there. And I said well actually I think he I want him cooking in the dark.

Then I’m going back to Virginia Beach and I particularly welcome anybody in the Virginia Beach area to get in touch who might like to do some cooking with me. They don’t have to be blind it could be anybody. And I’m looking for professional chefs to.

then I’m coming quickly back to the U.K. really just to do
the washing and catch up on some sleep.
Then I’m whizzing over to Chongqing, n China where I’m going to be working with the Rotary Club there who are already running a project to help local visually impaired people.

Then I’m going down to Australia to a place called Chioma where I’m hoping to cook with a local M.P. who happens to be visually impaired. And there’s also somebody who does bush tucker; So when you’re out in the outback where do you get
food from but from the bush and then you turn that into something my fingers are crossed edible. Not too wriggly and creepy crawly.

Then I’m going down to Melbourne and I’m already linking up with another Blind Cook down there.

Then I’m going on from there to Malawi and then back to the U.K.

And then I’ve got a whole program of more activities back in the U.K. particularly exploring some of the things that James Holman and might have understood and recognized. Because of course I worked in the Naval Base, the dockyard and many of the buildings he might have known. His ship was just on the other side of the water Portsmouth here in Hampshire.

We’re going to make videos all the way through. So I’m hoping to publish a video every week for a year. And they’ll be blogs and of course all the recipes.

TR:
What would you do with 25,000 dollars?
I’m sure there are lots of ideas out there, but
ideas aren’t worth anything by themselves.

I’d imagine that , contestant’s ideas were only a part of how the winners were determined.

I think it’s more like investing in the person. You want someone who can show the ability to see things through.

[TR in conversation with PMB]

A lot of people have the idea , but then they don’t make that step. How did you make the step?

PMB:
I did say I was a bit determined didn’t I.

But I think I’m also quite a creative person so I’m always looking for that sort of added different approach

TR:
Cooking is just one of Penny’s creative outlets;

In addition to making jams and preserves, she does pottery, flower arrangements. Hammers out crafts and more using Pewter –
a metal mixture that includes mainly tin.

PMB:
I design buildings as well. I’m sitting in my conservatory which I built as a birthday present to myself. I had it very clear in my head what I wanted and I have this great architect. We designed it absolutely right down to where the power sockets would go on the walls from my head. Then he built me a little cardboard model so I could check that he done it right and now I’m sitting in it.

Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t use your hands really
well.

TR:
Or your legs, your mind… you get the point!
Unfortunately, not everyone believes that’s true.

And too often those who lose their vision internalize these misbeliefs.

Yes, adjusting to blindness or any disability can cause depression. This could lead someone to feel their creative lives are no longer an option.

Penny offers additional insight and an approach to slowly breaking through.

PMB:

Much more of it is about the social isolation. The fact they can’t work. They’re sitting at home, they’re poorer, their health is suffering with that extra depression.

Their family and friends may be supportive but they still find it really difficult interacting across the broader community. yet underpinning all of that here is huge frustration determination motivation and if you can just tap into that and help them explore that, they’re away. And so I think people can convince themselves that they’re not creative the not. Aspirational because it’s a safe place to be. But actually once you can show them that you can achieve lots of things without risking safety too much you know we all need to know that you know life is a secure as we can make it. That all sorts of great things
are out there.
[TR in conversation with PMB]

That place to me, where I think they think they are, is a very scary place to me.

PMB:
Well status quo bias is where you believe that where the condition that you’re in at the moment is safe and secure even though that condition may be quite miserable.
And even if people demonstrate to you the benefits of making change you still resist it because you have that bias towards the status quo.

Here in the U.K. if you’re unemployed you may be in receipt of government benefits to help you live and people. feel that that safe and secure because at least they know they’ve got some income for the foreseeable future. And to break through that. Into it explain to the matter if you’ve got a job you’d be happier if family be happier your health would be better and have more money. It’s still getting across that big jump. Which is quite tricky for them and so the answer is you take in very small steps very small incremental steps so that at no stage are they having to make a huge decision to make that break from benefits into work. You help them make it gradually so that they’re not being faced with huge risk. The driving force behind I’m going to stick where I know I’m safe is very important but let’s just expand that area of safety so that it’s a bit more ambitious in the longer term.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
Yeh, just dip the toe… dip the toe in the water!

PMB:
Yeah

TR:

That moderate approach to adjusting can allow a person to slowly realize what they once viewed as a cost of vision loss could
prove to be a real benefit. Something I had to learn myself.

PMB:
people miss that huge advantage of being slightly vulnerable relying on somebody else and the benefit you get out of it. The number of delightful people that I meet and the bonding you get supportive bonding you know it’s a joy. I travel down perhaps I’m Darbyshire and they’ll be eight people that I will meet on that journey all of the other people traveling just passed their ticket to the ticket collector and don’t speak to anyone. I’ve had all that delight in that person interaction all that way.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
For me I know for a long time I was thinking that the first way, just passing my ticket and being quiet was the best way. And I have to remind myself that no this new way actually probably is the best way.

PMB:
the benefits are huge.

TR:
Baking Blind is a winner of the Holman Prize because Penny as a history of making things happen. That’s just one reason to be a fan of Penny & Baking Blind. Plus there’s that ability to adapt, the desire to create using what she has not wanting for what was lost, going for big goals like changing how the public views disability.

And of course the laugh!

If you’re interested in cooking with Penny go ahead and drop her an email at Penny@BakingBlind.com. Which is where you can find more about Penny, follow her journey and of course grab some recipes.

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio

[Audio:
PMB: oh I could do that.]

Audio for independent living.

RMMRadio Outro

When I learned about the Holman Prize I actually
thought about entering. the truth is I really didn’t have an independent ambition. I wanted to tell the stories of the winners.
I wanted to have real access to the winners to shadow their progress and really see the inner workings of their projects and
them as individuals.

But who knows, maybe the future has something like that in store.
For now, I have Face Time, I have Skype and if that’s what I have to do then it’s all good baby!
Isn’t that the Holman spirit!

Penny, like Holman, could have easily taken that Royal Navy Pension and sat in her chair and found some other way to entertain herself.

Like Penny, my response to that…

[Audio: Penny Laughs]

Sorry it’s just such a great hearty laugh I couldn’t resist.

Make sure you visit and subscribe to Baking Blind on YouTube.
All the links are on the blog post accompanying this episode on Reid My Mind.com.

Next time you are going to hear about
a man who is planning on Kayaking alone from Europe to Asia. And no he’s not crazy!

And then, we’re going to Uganda, well via Skype for now
to visit with a gentleman who already has the country buzzing with
how he’s directly changing the lives of others who are blind.

Make sure you subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss these episodes.

Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio, Sound Cloud!

And if you like what you hear on the RMMRadio, give a brother some love by leaving a review wherever you download the show … especially Apple Podcast.

You know they say, Podcasters need love too!

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – 14 Year Old Makes Talking Laundry Machine

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

TReid in front of washing machine which appears to be talking... machine says "47 minutes remaining on the wash cycle!
Touch screens and digital displays look sexy and futuristic, but for those who are blind or low vision these can present a real access issue.

Jack DuPlessis, a 14 year old programmer stepped up to the challenge of making a washer and dryer talk! Hear how he did it and the possible impact this can have on the future of appliances.

Resources

More of Jack’s work on Git Hub
* Purchase from First Build

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR :
What’s up RMMRadio family.
We’re getting right into this today.

And I can tell you from the jump, there’s know original musical creations in this episode.
[Applause]
Oh seriously who did that… that’s not cool!

[Reid My Mind Theme]

TR:
Accessibility issues are everywhere. Transportation, information like the printed word or that which appears in movies but isn’t spoken and too often employment.
When you think about the problem solvers who find solutions to these types of access issues, you may not think he’d sound like:
[TR in conversation with JD]
How are you?
JD:
I’m good!

TR:
… Well, like a 14 year old young man.
That’s Jack DuPlessis,.

Jack developed a way to make an otherwise inaccessible washer & Dryer talk.

Many of the newer appliances on the market today whether stove tops, microwaves and laundry machines are using digital displays and no real tactile options.

I spoke with Sam DuPlessis now known as Jack’s Dad.
I wanted to learn more about First Build, where this project all began.

SD: First Build was started about three years ago by G.E. appliances. We’re a wholly owned subsidiary of G.E. appliances. We want to incubate new products and
we want to do it in an open and collaborative way. We have all the tools to design build and sell new products and new innovations. And we invite anybody to come in and collaborate with us. Truly we mean anybody. We’ve got an on-line presence. You can come in and sign on and use our tools and create with us or you could go online and submit ideas to our website – we call it Co creation.

TR:
Others in the community and those who visit the site vote for their favorite ideas. The more votes and idea gets;

SD:
We put them in queue to make them and see if we can make products out of them. So really let the creativity of this place and ideas of a large group, come in and help us accelerate product development where from a G.E. appliances point of view things used to take years, we want to just take weeks and months to get these ideas out there tested.

TR:
First Build isn’t just sitting around waiting for ideas to come to them.

SD:
Once a year we do something called a mega hack a thon.

TR:
Hackers usually refers to computer programmers .
A hackathon is a fast paced event that
can last for a few hours or over a weekend.
The intention is to design a new piece of software often with a specific goal in mind.

In the case of the First build hackathon, hackers includes
programmers, engineers, machinists and others.

SD:
We just take things apart and put them back together and try to create new concept products in a weekend.

This year’s Hackathon is September 9 & 10.

TR:
Last year’s hackathon inspired what would become a talking laundry machine. But it started with a Stove or cook top.

SD:
An induction cooktops that was really designed specifically to address some of the cooking issues for the visually impaired. It was a great idea it had a pan locator on a smooth cook top where the visually impaired person wouldn’t have to feel with their hands where the burner was starting to warm up. They could just feel with the pot and it kind of self-locates over the cooking surface. we’ve never seen that before. We happen to have here in Louisville. the American Printing House for the Blind. It’s been here for one hundred fifty years and it’s where they print almost all the materials and teaching aids for blind and visually impaired education in the United States. When their leadership came in and reviewed the cooktop, it had like a cap touch control. It’s not very accessible.

TR:
It was through this outreach and communication with those who are impacted by the inaccessibility, where Sam received a request.

SD:
As things get more electronic like laundry, the knobs just spin three hundred sixty degrees they don’t have a home position. They don’t even have a home beep. You’ve grown this capability but you haven’t really addressed a good universal control. If you can give me a home beep . On Something that would be great.

So I took that as an idea for laundry. Something that here at first build we could just program a test for that and have something maybe that we could
update have in the field and just have a home beep on laundry. Really easy to do. I came home and I asked Jack would he be willing to work
on something like that.

[TR in Conversation with JD]
So your father comes to you with the idea, what did you think about it when he first asked you?

JD:
Yeah, I never thought about visually impaired people using a washer and how hard it would be without something as simple as a home position. So that was just a new take on controlling a washer, but I thought it would be a fun project.

[TR in Conversation with JD& SD]
Jack did you get into programming because of your Dad? Dad, how did it happen
SD:
The cool thing that I did was I brought home a Raspberry Pi and connected to a T.V.

TR:
Sam’s not referring to an actual pie here.
He’s talking about the tiny and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming through fun, practical projects

Getting his hands on this in 4th grade along with a visual coding interface, Jack began working on small projects that included making his own games.
Eventually that led to him learning other languages and other projects like a website that lets users test their typing speed and proficiency

And of course, talking laundry machines!

JD:
So yeah, I went with it and got a working like prototype version in about a weekend or so.

[TR in conversation with JD:]
For some kids, that would deter them to even continue. “Ah this is gonna take too long”, but that’s not you, it doesn’t sound like that.

JD:
[long pause]
No!
[TR & SD: laughs]
## TR:
Jack is humble which is an endearing trait for a very bright talented young guy.
Plus, he has Dad. And Dad’s love to talk about their children.

SD:
What took a few hours that weekend, was a very limited functionality and as this thing developed and we got the feedback, Jack rewrote this to not only address just the knobs but to address many of the buttons that are on the laundry and went through four total structure rewrites. and it has turned him from a very simple piece of code into a very very elaborate piece of code and it’s all self-taught.

I’m an engineer and I lead the technical development here at First Build. The passion that we look for in successful engineers is you got to see the problem and want to solve it and Jack has that and spades. He really
sees problems and really likes to dive in to figure out what it takes to solve it.

When Jack makes a significant improvement in anything the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.

TR & Dad laugh!

TR:
That code Jack wrote is now on a small device that attaches to both washer and dryer via a cable that plugs into the diagnostic ports in the back of each machine.

Turning the knob on the machine gives you immediate feedback:
[Sample Sounds]

It even allows you to press a button on the device while the machine is running and hear how much time is remaining.

[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Have you gotten any feedback from anyone who is visually impaired who may have used the device?

JD:
Yeah…So we put a device in the Kentucky School for the Blind. So we’ve gotten good feedback from them.
And that same person who gave us the feedback about the cook top from the American printing House for the Blind, he has given us great feedback on it as well.
SD:
Not only has he been able to take their feedback you know one on one, but he’s since been able to release software that provides the features that they asked for.
[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Congratulations to you young man! It’s a really cool thing you’re doing. Dad you too. Obviously you introduced him to it. What are you learning about accessibility?

SD:
I’ve made appliances for twenty five years and we’ve got we call it a heuristics evaluation. Where we look at the usability of controls. And from a I mean just a basic use of what could be in a control to make it more accessible I’ve learned that there are they they can actually be free and we can start putting them in appliances that we make today. If something has a tone capability instead of having it beep the the same beep as it slews through maybe a couple different selections. If it has a high and low tome Automatically it’s much more usable. With these types of insights you know we can put a home beep, it the minimum and that’s free.

We started to update our heuristics evaluation. I’m taking what we’ve learned in this point of view and seeing how we can update our control algorithm so that everything comes
out a little bit more accessible.

TR:
Of course, I had to ask about an iPhone app

SD:
That’s probably where in a few years I think many of our appliances will end up.

Wi-Fi has started to be added to our top end appliances including laundry and there is
a laundry app. One of the things Jacks work has done is uncovered these communications that Go back and forth in the app don’t exist. He’s actually telling
them the things that they need to do to create a more accessible app experience..

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
What’s your favorite piece of technology right now Jack?

JD:
My favorite piece of technology right now that I want is probably a Mac Book.

SD:
Santa Clause is getting some hints!

[Tr in conversation with SD:]
And it sounds like he’s been a real good boy!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Do you see yourself going more into what area? Do you want to stay with manufacturing coding, I heard games what do you want to do?

JD:
I’m not sure exactly what I want to do. As long as it involves computers, programming it will probably be good with me.

[Tr in conversation with JD:]

And accessibility too, right?

JD:
Yeah!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Laughs!

TR:
It’s refreshing to know that this talented young man and possible future leader in technology is already showing signs of committing to accessibility.

Right now, the First Build Talking Laundry Module is available for one GE washer and 2 dryers 1 electric and one gas.

The modules right now are being produced on demand and available for purchase
via the First Build website; firstbuild.com

It costs $99 and works for both washer and dryer. and comes with the cables and AC adapter.

The device is 5 x 5 x 2.5 inch and has built in speaker and volume control knob and includes magnets on the base to hold the unit to the side of dryer

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio

[JD: from the piece… long pause and he then says… No!]

Audio for independent living!

TR: RMMRadio Outro

The purpose of technology is to help us accomplish a specific task. The first tools used by our ancestors in Africa could be considered assistive technology.

Accessibility, just extends the us. For too long us only included those with fully functioning… fill in the blank.
More people are understanding and being informed that just because your eyes don’t function at a certain level, you don’t hear the way others may or any other disability, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to get the same things accomplished.

I can really appreciate this story for several reasons.

I can relate to the Dad, Sam, recognizing that his son’s interest. Then challenging him to get involved with a project that has a real world purpose. Encouraging him to not only get better at coding but gaining an early lesson about technology – it should improve our lives.

There’s another lesson that can be gained… it’s about disability but even more so it’s about humanity. Everyone has unlimited potential. Disability doesn’t reduce that in anyway. People do.

People who see limitations and then whether directly or otherwise restrict someone from reaching their potential.

People who internalize that idea and restrict themselves.

People who refuse to make their products accessible even after learning that by doing so they are restricting 20 percent of the population who has some form of disability.

Whether from a business or creative perspective, not working towards a fully accessible product is a very limiting move. Convincing me once again that the limitations are in the eye of the beholder.

Accessibility advocates will tell you the goal, is accessibility included in the design phase. The time when all those involved with the creation of the product are beginning to figure out what the product will look like and how it will work. It sounds like Sam is taking steps toward that. Especially realizing that it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

We can say that Jack getting involved at 14 is right in line with that. Part of the problem is that accessibility isn’t often included in computer science curriculum.

Getting introduced to the concept of accessibility at 14 years old, makes me optimistic about the future.

You might say this is one person, one story, but that’s never really the case unless the story goes untold.

Well Jack’s story has definitely made its way around the web and I’d like to think that the accessibility conversation has been advanced a little further.

Shout out to Sam and Jack DuPlessis First Build and GE for advancing access for those who are blind or visually impaired.

And here’s hoping Santa is listening to this episode of the podcast and Jack finds some cool stuff under that tree this year!

You know what else is cool? Yes, you do!
Subscribing to this here podcast. You can subscribe on Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio and follow on Sound Cloud.

Give the podcast a rating, a review and or tell a friend or two to take a listen.

Peace!

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Reid My Mind Radio – Full Access to Movies & Television…

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

The Actiview  logo appears on screen in a small theater
An episode packed with goodness. First, Alex Koren one of two founders of Actiview, the new startup changing not only the way we consume audio description but the way we think of video accessibility. This episode also includes:
– A slight rant on access to Audio Description in general
– A special sneak peak into a new project I’m excited to work on with one of Hip Hop’s pioneers, Doctor Dre; an original Def Jam artist, Yo MTV Raps and Hot 97 Morning Show host & DJ
– Inspiration struck – thanks to Brooklyn’s own Notorious BIG… and if you don’t know, now you know…!

Now go ahead and hit Play and don’t forget to subscribe!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Wasup everyone!
We’re talking audio description this week.
In some sense it’s about the future of description.

In the present as you’ll hear more in the Gatewave piece, getting the audio description device in a theater can be a hit or miss.

Today, a new start up changing the paradigm as it relates to how people ith vision loss and others gain access to video content.

So let’s get it!

[20th Century Fox Theme]
[RMMRadio Theme Music ]

[Audio from John Wyck Chapter 2]

TR:
You’re listening to audio description from the movie John Wyck Chapter 2. Audio Description, well, that’s the additional narration making video accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

This extra information describes scenes not containing dialog or other nonverbal information that is relevant to the story.

Alex koren, a 23 year old entrepreneur originally from the New York/New Jersey area is one of two founders of Actiview. They’re a new startup company. Their product, an iPhone app, is putting more control and accessibility in the hands of the consumer.

AK:
I received a grant in two thousand and fourteen called the Theil Fellowship. It’s awarded to twenty young entrepreneurs every year to drop out of college
and pursue entrepreneurial endeavors of their choice. I moved up to San Francisco and kind of had two years to just think about ideas work on different things. Entering into the
last half year of my fellowship I felt compelled to really build something that mattered to people. Build something I probably be connected to and I had this idea for Actiview. How can I make movie theaters more accessible. Make home television more accessible.

There’s two Founders and really three partners on this project as a whole. Myself my co-founder Braun Shedd who’s actually nineteen years old. I worked with him previously on a project or two and I said I’ve got this idea come live with me let’s work on this let’s hack on this and see what we can make out of it.

And the third guy Paul Cichockihe he was at Pixar for about seventeen years. He was the post-production supervisor and he really headed up there initiative to make their audio description as high quality as possible. He was working on captions, audio description
every accessible service under the domain of a lot of things that he did. And he left Pixar and came to join us full time in September of last year.

TR:
While none of the three partners have a direct relationship with vision loss; Alex did spend some considerable time with people who are deaf.

AK:
I really enjoy and find it rewarding to work and be in a field that really helps people with blindness low vision people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

TR:
Actiview an iOS only application right now is bringing a full service accessibility solution to the smart phone.

It offers audio description, closed captions, American Sign Language, sub-titles and language translations.

Alex points out some of the ways earlier apps which tried to bring audio description direct to the consumer. differ from Actiview’s approach.

AK:
all of these had great intentions and were really viable pieces of technology except for a few things.

One we wanted to be access ability first. It was all
about making sure that we provide the best possible experience for the accessible users first. And then expand it out to the general population. And the second one is we recognize that every movie had to be accessible. It couldn’t just be a select few. And so the first piece of technology that we ended up developing was a piece of hardware
that movie theaters could install that made every movie accessible via Wi-Fi. All of the technology that we’d seen had made you download stuff in the
cloud and they had a limited selection of movies. We were trying to work in the realm of making every movie accessible. In developing this technology we spent the
better part of I think over a year reverse engineering a lot of broadcasts systems and projection booths which is really really tough work. We sat in a lot of dark rooms between a lot of you know loud and hot equipment with our computers out trying to figure this out. After we built kind of our first prototypes and demos we sort of realize that theaters unfortunately just aren’t that excited about buying more equipment to make stuff accessible. Which is a really really unfortunate truth. So we sort of started to take a different approach to all this. We said how can we still make every movie accessible
without selling something directly to the theater for them to install and work on. The first thing we did was we moved a mobile app that you could download
the content from the cloud synchronize it with the movie and basically use it anywhere without any hardware. We piloted with cars three in June of this year and everyone could download the audio description track go to see Cars 3 in the movie theater and play the track back. We had some great response. A lot of moms
and dads talking about how their blind or low vision child finally got to go to the movies. It was really really moving for us and exciting for us.

That also works in the home. And so we’re working on also adding content from providers like Netflix and Amazon Video as well as DVDs that you already have, I Tunes video all the services. The download and sync idea the download and sync solution works for you kind of anywhere. So we don’t see where this is only the theatrical only the releases where you go with the family once a year. it’s also I have a spouse who’s not blind or not Deaf who wants to watch Netflix with me and I can personally turn on the audio description in my ear and we can both watch together on the same couch. Because right now you
know Netflix and Amazon have great audio description offerings but you turn on audio description on everyone’s listening when it’s on the captions everyone’s watching them. And to have a kind of personalized experience we imagine a world where the Spanish speaking mom, the blind husband and the Deaf child are all sitting in one room watching together and that’s I think a really really special experience.

And now going forward what we’re doing is we’re taking the software that we still love that was sitting in that box that you can install in the projection booth and we’re actually trying to sell it to the projector manufacturers. so they can take the software install it directly in a projector so instead of us selling new technology to theaters it’s just a software update to projectors. And that’s really the new paradigm
of what we’re trying to solve and do here at Actiview. It’s make every projector capable of making movies accessible.
We’re just getting it from its almost last destination to its destination and that’s really just from the projection booth to your ears.

TR:
The less steps in this last phase of delivery, the better. Both people and technology introduce possible failure points.

Take for instance the current process of listening to audio description in movie theaters today.

[Audio: Movie theater atmosphere]

When purchasing your tickets, a movie goer must first request the device from the box office.

In my experience, there’s often a confusion here.
After requesting the device for the visually impaired I am asked;
[Theater Box Office Attendant]
” do you mean the closed caption?”
[Pause
TR:
“No!”

[Theater Box Office Attendant]
“Do you mean the device that makes it louder?”

[Pause]

TR:
“No!”

If you make it past this first round with the a device in your hands…
When the movie finally begins after about a half hour of previews you didn’t ask to see, you find out the device wasn’t properly configured. Meaning the movie begins and there’s no description streaming from the device through your headphones.

This requires quickly returning to the theater employee or manager to have the device fixed.

Hopefully, this is resolved the first time, but I’ve been to theaters where we had to repeat this process.

Actiview would eliminate these extra steps in the accessibility delivery process.

The Actiview team seems to understand an important fact of accessibility; one size does not fit all.
AK:
People need different levels of access and our app it’s built to be really modular in the way that you can just press buttons to use multiple ones at the same time. You can’t use all of them at the same time because there’s limitations on what the phone can do, but certainly the ones that are applicable you know you know that someone using audio description for instance would never need the sign language track so we don’t allow that combination. But certainly the ones
for low hearing and low vision or low hearing and Deaf. We do allow you to combine those and use them simultaneously.

TR:
All of these accessibility solutions in one app;
should be a reminder to advocates about the power of coalition.

To download the app visit the Apple App store.

AK:
If you download the app, you go through a quick tutorial about how to use the app and just as an head’s up you will need headphones that are wired to your phone
in order to try to go through the tutorial. It’s a requirement we have for security purposes. And once you do that there’s an option to subscribe to push notifications. And if you hit ok on the push notifications you will then be on our list to hear about when new movies get released. And so we’ll be giving constant updates with new movies new content.

[TR in conversation with AK:]

You already said you’re probably working 12, 12 plus hours a day. What help are you guys looking for from the community at this point?

That’s a great question. I think that the first clearly easiest thing is downloads are king. For every download we get we’re tracking the usage of the app and we can go over to Hollywood and say hey guys look how many people want this thing. You know for every person who watch Cars 3 it was one more point in our court. Look how well this once people are really excited about this let’s keep doing it let’s keep this going.
Download some content. Go and see a movie. We hope to have a few more on there in the coming weeks to few months that you can go and see and they might be more applicable to you if you’re not a Cars fan. And that’s the easiest way to get involved.

Second of all we’re are hiring we’re looking for more engineering talent. I
think that We want to hire both low vision blind deaf and hard of hearing people to come work at Actiview. We really want to dedicate ourselves to fully being an accessible company. We’re looking for people to come join us if you’ve got the chops we will absolutely have a look and
take a listen and see if there’s a space to have you on board.

Just being an advocate – telling friends family because downloads are really important, but also coming back to us and saying hey I have an idea or hey this isn’t really working for me I need it this way because at the end of the day Actiview is only as good as the services that it provides to its customers. And if we’re not doing something to the best of our ability and you’re not enjoying the content you’re doing then we’re not doing our job. We think we’re doing a pretty good job in surveying and asking people what they want making sure we’re building their needs but there’s certainly work to be done and we hope that people give us the kind of feedback so we can build the best possible product.

TR:
To get in touch with the Actiview team whether to learn more about the app, give feedback including suggestions or for possible employment;
Contact by:
email: team@actiview.co
Twitter @TeamActiview)
website actiview.co

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio,
[Audio from interview: Which is a really really unfortunate truth.]

Audio for independent living!

[Audio: film Slate announcer says ” Take 1″]

Whenever I talk about audio description in the back of my mind I hear the haters.

Those who say this topic isn’t important. It’s just entertainment.

Once again, the haters are wrong, they suck!

Audio description makes information in the video format accessible.

This includes educational videos in the school and workplace.

Think of young children and adults alike who develop friendships and working relationships as a result of talking about their favorite program or movie.

At the core of entertainment is humanity and a message. Why should anyone be denied access to that information.

That descriptive information extends beyond video whether movies or television.

I can’t tell you how annoying it is to see a message in my social media feed, pick anyone! and the text refers to a image file… but there’s no way of getting that information without seeing the picture.
At least that was before the ability to add a description to the image.

Truth is the image description could be included with the post especially with FB. However, Twitter enabled the ability to add way more than 140 characters to describe the image.

Museums, galleries and other places could make their content accessible using headsets and location technology readily available today.

And I know the first thing said when the subject comes up…
Do blind people go to museums or are they on social media.

Not only are we out here, we make media.

We have families who we like to accompany to different experiences and we want to engage independently without their assistance in order for us all to share in an experience.

We might want to just alone.

That question yawl, is bullshit. Don’t accept it… in fact here you go…

simply remind people that they probably benefited from closed caption when at a sports bar.

re-directed themselves toward a ramp as opposed to lifting the functional leg up to step on to the sidewalk.

Man, don’t get me started yawl!

Just the other day I saw a tweet from someone who wished they could watch television while training for a marathon. They just find it gets boring.
I had to holla and let them know audio described movies/television are a real option.
It’s a non visual means of consuming media, that’s it.
The more that use the better for us all.
Try it on a road trip. Truck drivers could really get into it.
Bike riders and other athletes. Those doing work where it allows for active listening but not focusing on a screen.

We still have a long way until accessibility is just a normal part of how we do business.

Lots of room for expansion and growth.
Documentaries!
Many do not include description making them difficult to follow.

Audio description can impact a person’s adjustment to vision loss.

For so many people, the movies are that way to get out and lose themselves for 2 hours.

Earlier this year, I interviewed what I have come to realize is a true movie connoisseur.
In fact, he’s been in some movies himself.
Doctor Dre from Yo MTV Raps and New York’s Hot 97 Morning Show fame…
If you haven’t listened to that episode I truly suggest you do.

In fact, I’ll drop a little teaser of a project he and I are working on together that brings a different perspective and voice to the podcast game.

Here’s a taste of one around Dre’s experience with description.

This project is going to include conversations, interviews and more on lots of different topics and let me tell you right now, they can go anywhere. Dre has a gift for that and the funny thing is they tie into all sorts of subjects some very relevant today and some you may not be used to me talking about.

I hope you will join us when it’s ready but for now, I’ll probably slip some previews into the podcast feed so make sure you are subscribed so you don’t miss out.

If you’re not sure how to subscribe…

your friendly super hero has you covered.

If you have an iPhone

## 10 Subscribe Commandments
Step 1
Take out your phone, do it real fast
open the app, it’s called Podcast

In the bottom right corner, you can find the search tab
i’ll wait to you find it, Got it, Fab!

Now just type this in right on that search line
R E I D M Y, Mind

Tap on that search button, and away you go
there it is.., Reid My Mind Radio

All the episodes , appear on your screen
over 65 to date, Nahmean

a Reid My Mind button on the bottom, not sure which side
Hit it, next page, choose subscribe

Now your official, I’ll call you sis or bro
Or a non gender listener, of RMMRadio

Now , one more thing, I’d love for you to do,
give me a rating and if you could, , write me a review!

They say ratings help listeners find the podcast
It doesn’t take long, it’s pretty quick and fast

One last thing, You don’t need tech to do
Refer the show to a friend or two.

TR:
[Talking over music]
I would really like to get this information and overall message out to those who can really use it.
To me that’s everyone so we have a long way to go!

Shout out to the person who gave me a review, I appreciate you.

While you’re on the review page, hit that related tab and check out what other podcasts those who subscribe are listening to… we’re in some good company including Blind Abilities and Oprah and This American Life.

Hey Oprah, holla!

Peace.

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